Like other cartoon series built around an action premise, TMNT did not escape criticism by parent groups for its violence. In the case of this series, schools began reporting that children began getting into fights during recess and seriously hurting one another in an attempt to mimic the martial arts moves depicted in the show.
In the original comics, all four turtles had red bandanas. For the TV show, TMNT creator Peter Laird decided to give each Turtle a different color to make it easier to tell them apart: Leonardo has a blue bandana, Raphael a red bandana, Donatello a purple bandana and Michelangelo an orange bandana. This color scheme became so popular it eventually became a staple of the TMNT saga.
Begining in Season 4, the show started phasing away Michaelangelo's nunchucks and began having him use the Turtle Line, a turtle shell shaped grappling hook used by all the turtles, as his main weapon. Starting in Season 5, the nunchucks were not even kept on Michelangelo's belt and disappeared without any explanation. This is a direct result of nunchucks being outlawed in many countries and these countries had to edit out any footage of Michelangelo using his nunchucks. Since the show went international, MWS changed it for everyone.
The mutagen ooze was depicted slightly differently in this cartoon; rather than causing its victims to increase in size, it caused them to transform into a hybrid of their original species and whatever creature they have most recently been in contact with. The mutagen ooze also had many color variations through the series, the mutagen seen in Season 1 that mutated the turtles, splinter, and Bebop and Rocksteady had a pinkish glowing color. However starting in Season 3 green mutagen was introduced, which became the most common color in the series. It recanted, and even shown in the 2nd intro sequence, that the mutagen that mutated the turtles was green. Later a rainbow variant of the green mutagen was shown.
The producers tried to get the voice actors to be a little more serious in their performance since comic book on which the series is based was serious. But the voice actors would have so much fun recording together that they played up the comedic aspects of their characters. Also, most of the voice cast had children whom they wanted to enjoy the show.
In the original Mirage comic books, the Foot Soldiers are real people, not robots. As such, the comics showed the turtles killing Foot Soldiers in fight scenes. Due to issues of violence in children programs, the soldiers were changed to robots and the turtles are never seen killing anyone despite their use of offensive weapons.
When the show aired on CBS, many Public Service Announcements aired on CBS Saturday Morning line up. These PSA's were called "Turtle Tips" and intended to benefit the public interest, by raising awareness of environmental issues.
When production started for CBS the show was aired on an hour block on CBS Kid TV. The first episode consisted of an action-oriented episode and the second episode was more comedic and highlighted one of the four turtles. The latter type of episode was discontinued in Season 6 when the show went to just one episode per week.
The Turtles were originally hired to write the theme song but they never got around to it. Chuck Lorre and Dennis C. Brown wrote the original theme song in two days and Jim Mandell provided the lead vocals.
Because of heavy censorship in the United Kingdom, the original intro sequence was heavily edited replacing the word "ninja" with "hero" or "fighting", using a digitally faded logo instead of the animated blob, and removing any scenes in which Michelangelo wields his nunchucks, replacing them with random clips from the show. When the show started airing on CBS, a new more international friendly intro sequence that was produced. The 2nd intro still referenced ninjas, but didn't feature Michelangelo wielding his nunchucks. They were just stored on his belt like in most Season 4 episodes.
In the comics, movies and other ninja turtles TV shows, the turtles are often referred to as abbreviated versions of their names Leonardo-Leo Raphael-Raph Donatello- Donny/Don Michelangelo- Mikey/Mike. In this series, they are always referred to in full context.
For Season 4, 28 episodes were produced for syndication and 26 episodes were produced for CBS' "Kid TV" Saturday morning line up. However, 13 of the syndicated episodes never aired in 1990. The "European Vacation" episodes were not seen in the United States until USA Network started showing reruns in late 1993, and The Easter themed episodes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Turtles and the Hare (1991) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Once Upon a Time Machine (1991) weren't seen until 1991. An easy way to tell that these are Season 4 episodes is: the original intro is used, title cards are used, Michelangelo uses his nunchucks, and the Technodrome is stuck on an asteroid in Dimension X. These episodes were delayed because of animation and schedule problems.
All of the voice actors performed their roles together in the same room. This was so important to Fred Wolf that he told the voice actors that the recording session took priority and if someone couldn't make it to the recording session, they would be temporarily be replaced. This is why some of the characters had alternative voice actors, who temporarily took on the role when the original was unavailable.
CBS decided they wanted the show to be darker after getting beat in the ratings by X-Men (1992), a show featuring the original comic book mutants. Starting in Season 8 the show became darker and more serious, a tone that was a closer match to the original comic books the show was based on.
When seeing the design of Krang's android body as shown in the storyboards Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman thought it was absolutely dorky. Laird said it resembled a sick Pillsbury dough-boy and called Karl Aaronian at Playmates about it, he said that it shouldn't be a problem and that the actual animated android body would look different, as it is common practice for the storyboard artists to do quick roughs for the purposes of the storyboards. However, Aaronian called Eastman and Laird again and told them that Murakami/Wolf said that they were too far into the production of the fifth episode to change the look of the character. Years later Peter Laird said, in retrospect, this problem was a harbinger of problems to come.
April O'Neil's character design on this show is based on her appearance in TMNT issue #2. When developing the show, David Wise was inspired by the outfit worn by heroine Fujiko Mine in Lupin the 3rd (1977) decided to make April's jumpsuit yellow .
In their initial January 1987 meeting with Playmates toys to discuss producing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, the company told Eastman and Laird that they wouldn't go forward to produce toys without a cartoon series to coincide with the toys. So, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird drove up to L.A. and, along with the president and v.p. for marketing of Playmates, met with the president of Marvel Productions, the company that Playmates wanted to do the TMNT cartoon. As it turned out, Marvel Productions never got the job to do the TMNT cartoon as it went to another company, Murkami Wolf Swenson.
At the time the show was developed only 11 issues of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's Mirage comics were published. These were the only issues of volume 1 where they worked together with intense collaborative effort, where both would work together on each bit of story and have to agree to. So after intense deadlines and a rising franchise that required a lot of time, they decided they will be alternating books - (Peter would do #12, Kevin will do #13, and so on).
Lotus Blossom bears a resemblance to Karai from the original comics, which led fans to believe that she is an alternate animated counterpart to Karai. Despite popular belief, Lotus actually first appeared on the show three years before Karai was introduced in the comics.
Writer David Wise admitted that he preferred and always wanted the show to have the serious action oriented tone of the last 3 seasons. He pointed out that Season 1 had a perfect balance of real drama and humour and that Season 2 is when the show started going in a more humour driven direction. However, he did not enjoy working on the final 2 seasons because of network meddling.
With a successful television premiere and five episodes that were available for repeats in spot syndication, Playmates shifted their focus toward the planned summer 1988 launch of the action figure line. The company was unwilling to commit funding for additional episodes beyond the miniseries. Fred Wolf wanted to continue the momentum and arranged a deal with Sachs-Finley that would give him ownership of the first five episodes, and then began the long process of trying to secure funding for the additional thirteen. All three major networks passed on the series and Wolf ended up making a deal with Group W, the TV division of Westinghouse. However, the budget was too steep for Group W and Fred Wolf offered to lower cost by a million dollars by offering to subsidize the show himself. It was a crapshoot on Wolf's part as he didn't have the money at the time and depended on one of the job Wolf was bidding on outside of the turtles. The crapshoot worked and the other stuff came through.
The show had a spinoff Archie comic based on the show called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures. Tales of the TMNT ceased production so that Mirage staffers Ryan Brown and Stephen Murphy could focus on the Archie comic. The Mirage staffers immediately abandoned the direct animated series adaptations and took the title in a decidedly different direction with all-new original adventures, including the uniting of several of the series' recurring characters as a separate team, the Mighty Mutanimals.
When originally coming up with the concept of the turtles, one of the ideas Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird considered was to give each Turtle a different costume. These costumes were used for the Intergalactic Wrestling Competition in the Archie comics.
After the ratings were high, the networks that had previously passed on TMNT began to take notice. Fred Wolf was doing some work with Judy Price at CBS and she was watching the phenomenon of the Turtles' success. Even though this was a network that had turned the show down initially, Price though a deal could be worked out. A few weeks into talking about it , she put in an order for twenty-six shows for Saturday morning. It was unheard of to get an order for twenty-six, as opposed to thirteen. So the Turtles were still in production for syndication and an order to do another twenty-six for CBS.
The playmates toyline featured characters used on the show, but the show and toy designs usually only loosely resembled each other. The Turtles and Splinter's basic design were more like the Mirage comics and most of the other mutant characters were designed to look gross and disgusting.
After the show became an hit, the Turtles became an international merchandising juggernaut. Co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird had to leave the Mirage comic book to handle day-to-day administration of the franchise. As a result many guest artists took over the comic and gave it a disjointed anthology feel with a lot of wackiness that resembled the show.
When developing this show, it was decided to make April O'Neil a news reporter instead of a lab assistant and part time antique dealer. Writer David Wise made this change so to give the turtles a source to find out information (since the show was made before the world wide web).
The Rat King was changed for the show to be just a guy who's living in the sewer. Also the cartoon Rat King is more handsome and has a full head of hair as opposed to his hideous Mirage comic counterpart.
Instead of being an exotic pet flushed down the toilet, Leatherhead was given two new backstories for the archie comics and show respectively. The Archie comics Leatherhead was originally country Cajun man named Jess Harley. The show took the archie comic origin, but changed it to Leatherhead be a mutated albino gator.
Though Casey Jones ended up being a regular in the Mirage comics, he was only an occasional guest in this series. His personality in this series is also drastically different from his comic counterpart.
The Stan Sakai created character Miyamoto Usagi makes his animated debut in this series However, the show and the Playmates toyline refer to him as Usagi Yojimbo which is actually the title of the characters comic series.
The third season, containing 47 episodes, aired daily beginning in the fall of 1989, bringing the total number of episodes at that point up to 65, a magic number for syndication, as that allows a station to run each episode four times throughout the year on a Monday-to-Friday schedule, making it easy for a station to fill a calendar's years' worth of programming. The Turtles' future as an animated property was secure, and even had an additional 28 episodes ready for syndication to air in the fourth season.
For Season 4, Fred Wolf Films partnered with IDDH Groupe, a French animation company, for a co-production of 13 episodes that would have the turtles on a vacation throughout Europe. These episodes were supposed to air with the rest of the syndicated episodes in Season 4, but they only aired on schedule in Ireland and Japan. They were not aired in the U.K. until 1992 and United States in 1993.
The 1988 and 1989 waves of figures from Playmates featured characters that appeared on the show in some form or another. Beginning with the 1990 wave of figures, quite a few of the mutant characters, as well as numerous turtle variants, from the toyline weren't featured in the show. Instead the show started to mostly feature their own new villains such as mad scientists and their own mutant characters.
Fred Wolf Films, the animation company, that Turtles' co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird worked with, hired by Playmates, a work-for-hire animation studio, sued Eastman and Laird for half the royalties that they'd made in the entire history of the property. Fred Wolf Films claimed that they created everything about the Turtles that made them such a big phenomenon. Fred Wolf's deposition had claims such as he put the Turtles in the sewer and he put April O'Neil in a jumpsuit (both of which come from issues #1 and #2 of the original comics respectively).
Out of the four turtles Raphael is the most radically different from his original comic book counterpart. In the comics, Raphael was the most violent and aggressive turtle of the group and had a tendency to go berserk in battle. In this show, he was more of a laid back, sarcastic, smart alec, other iterations depict him as being closer to his comic counterpart but dial back his violent tendencies.
There was originally going to be an episode called "Shredder in Love", but it never got past the script stage. Renae Jacobs even recorded lines for it. Little is known about the plot, but rumours state that the love potions from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Green with Jealousy (1989) might have been reused.
The logo used for this series was created by Playmates toys and is different than the one used in Eastman and Laird's Mirage comics. A logo loosely similar to this was used for Mirage comics from 1992-1995, but did not feature green turtles skinned "TURTLES" letters.
The "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will return after these messages" and "We now return to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" bumpers used going into and coming out of commercial breaks were not voiced by Pat Fraley as some believe. The voice was likely provided by a Murakami-Wolf-Swenson employee as opposed to a professional voice actor.
The catch phrases during the theme song ("He's a radical rat", "Gimme a break", etc.) is the sped-up voice of theme song writer Chuck Lorre. They were intended for the voice actors but were never re-recorded.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creators Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman later admitted that they didn't like this animated series for many reasons, including the change of tone from the comic book (going from serious to more comedic in the animated series), making the characters and story lines more family friendly, the extra characters that were created specifically to sell toys (in particular, they didn't like Rocksteady, Bebop and Krang), and the meddling of network executives on scripts. However, since they didn't own the rights to the TV version of the series, there was little they could do to change it. Later, they would sell all rights to the TMNT franchise to Viacom, who created series that were a hybrid of both the comic book elements and the more family friendly/comedic elements.
During recording of the voice acting, all the main cast recorded together. According to Renae Jacobs, working together "was great for camaraderie and relationships. We played off each other...there was a lot of ad libbing."